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1922 - The First "Moscow Trial"

The first in the long series of the "Moscow trials" took place in 1922. This was the trial of the leadership of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The Socialist-Revolutionary Party, which in November 1917 polled the largest number of votes of all political groups in Russia, had taken part in the civil war and been defeated. Subsequently, in 1920-21, it changed its tactics, but under the systematic repression it had almost entirely disintegrated. The trial of 1922, an aftermath of the Bolshevik victor)', was an act of revenge in which the obedient and disciplined "masses" were expected to show their turning away from the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.

Of the 32 defendants tried, 22 were actually members of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, among them such widely known figures as Abram Gots, Mikhail Vedenyapin, Evgeni Timofeev, Dmitri Donskoi, and Evgeniya Ratner. The other 10, who had defected from the party, were government witnesses, two of them agents-provocateurs against the first named group. It was charged that the defendants had: (1) defended by arms the provisional government (the defendants admitted this); (2) defended by arms the Constituent Assembly (the defendants admitted this, too) ; (3) led an armed fight against the Soviet power (the defendants admitted this as an historical fact; in 1919, however, the Soviet government had declared an amnesty for these offenses and, for a time, had even legalized the Socialist-Revolutionary Party).

The fourth accusation was that the Socialist-Revolutionaries had taken part in the attempt on Lenin's life and in the assassination of V. Volodarski. In support of this accusation, there was not a single proof except statements of the agents-provocateurs.

The impending trial of the Socialist-Revolutionary leaders was discussed at a conference of the then existing two Socialist and one Communist Internationals in Berlin in April 1922. Soviet delegates Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek agreed to sign a commitment that no death sentences would be imposed at the Moscow trial:

"The Conference [of the Executive Committees of the three Internationals in Berlin] takes notice of the statement of the representatives of the Communist International that at the trial against 47 [32] Socialist-Revolutionaries all persons desired by the defendants as counsel for the defense will be adinitted; that, as mentioned in the Soviet press before the Conference opened, there will be no death sentences at this trial.

. . . Finally Vandervelde, Wauters, Kurt Rosenfeld and Theodor Liebknecht (the first two were representatives of the Belgian Labor Party, the latter two were representatives of the Independent Socialist Party of Germany) left for Russia [to act as defense attorneys], relying on the Berlin agreement."

The trial turned into a tragic farce. Wherever the attorneys went, rabble crowds organized by the authorities, Chekist rogues, together with all kinds of assigned Communists attacked the train of the defenders under the guise of the "Russian proletariat" and demanded that they account for the counter-revolutionary act of defending the Socialist Revolutionaries.

When the trial started, the courthouse was surrounded by organized crowds who shouted and demanded "death to the Socialist-Revolutionaries." The mobs were permitted to enter the hall and make speeches; the president of the court, Lenin's lieutenant, Georgi Pyatakov, did nothing to defend the rights of the defendants. (Fifteen years later the same Pyatakov, similarly accused and "exposed" by Vyshinsky, "confessed" and was sentenced to death and executed.)

Since no real defense was possible, on June 19 Vandervelde, Liebknecht, Rosenfeld and Wauters left Moscow (they had had to go on a hunger strike to get permission from the Bolshevik to leave.) The sentencing of the defendants was a problem for the Politburo. It was impossible openly to renege on the commitment made in Berlin that no death sentences would be imposed ; on the other hand, "retreat" before the "social traitors" would have been tantamount to a defeat. Trotsky proposed a compromise : To impose the death sentence but not carry it out immediately. The compromise was accepted; the decision was that the defendants be held as permanent hostages, to be shot if they engaged in any overt act against the Soviet leaders.

This was, in fact, a death sentence held in abeyance. On August 7, the Tribunal pronounced its verdict: 12 of the defendants to be shot, 10 to be imprisoned for from 2 to 10 years; the others, the traitors, were freed. The condemned Socialist-Revolutionary leaders thus remained in prison [or exile] for many years, until they were executed by Stalin.

A phenomenon of this first of the great Moscow trials was the fact that the defendants did not "confess," nor did they repudiate or revile their party. Facing the court with dignity, pride, and courage, they told the judges : "If death is in store for us," said Gots, "we will die without fear; if we stay alive, we will fight you after our liberation as relentlessly as we did before."

"The state prosecutors Lunacharski and Krylenko," said Timofeev ". . . found it necessary, in order to facilitate their task, to propose that we repent and repudiate our past activities. In answer to this proposal I am authorized by all the defendants of the first group categorically to tell the Tribunal and the state prosectuors: it is out of the question that we should repent or give up; you will never hear frcm these benches anything of the kind."

"From the moment we fell into your hands we were sure that you would sentence us to death. But from this bench you will never hear a request for pardon."

In accordance with the orders of the Politburo the Socialist-Revolutionaries were sentenced to death and the sentence was not carried out. However, most of them perished subsequently in the Stalin era.

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Page last modified: 30-01-2016 19:10:18 ZULU